Plant introductions at Four Oaks 2015

A record number of overseas exhibitors at this year's show will join with domestic outfits to showcase the best new varieties for launching onto the UK market, Matthew Appleby reports.

Garden Star: campanula with big stems and masses of azure blue flowers will grow in a range of soils and situations - image: Botanics International
Garden Star: campanula with big stems and masses of azure blue flowers will grow in a range of soils and situations - image: Botanics International

A favourable exchange rate for importing plants into the UK means that the Four Oaks Trade Show will be a great place to pick up outstanding deals from nurseries, according to exhibitors. About 450 exhibitors and more than 700 stands are booked for the Cheshire show, with a record 38 per cent from overseas, says organiser Pat Coutts.

Some 180 of the 450 companies at the show are from overseas, which is a record for the 45-year-old event. The overseas growers tend to take up more floor space than UK exhibitors and they show larger stock. Coutts says the overseas influx is because the exchange rate is so good for exporting to the UK. But she adds: "Don't underestimate the quality of overseas nursery stock. But it's the really good prices that make a heck of a difference."

The Dutch predominate, with 15 growers exhibiting under the Kolff Plants banner, while the Italians are bigger this year and have groups such as Floranord, Flor-Coop and COP exhibiting.

Coutts points out that the show has a constant presence on the calendar and has maintained a steady size over the years. Grower and sundries/services providers are split 50/50 - a good mix, she says. There is more hardy nursery stock these days, reflecting instant, low-maintenance gardening trends, she adds.

The Greek economic crisis has further weakened the euro, making plant imports more attractive because prices are lower. Paul Moors, managing director at plant importer Garden Centre Fresh (GCF), says: "It always helps when products become cheaper but stability becomes an issue when we set ranges and the currency fluctuates so much. It's all very good for short-term business but we need long-term stability.

"We supply a broad spectrum of outlets. Our customers demand top-end service and top-quality product - from Blue Diamond to a single fruit and veg shop in Harrogate - and we've developed our team to ensure each sector gets the service and dedication they deserve."

Moors is focusing on product such as exclusive tricolour acers he developed that are being grown by Van Son & Koot and Hoogeveen's tricolour hellebores, which will be launched at the Four Oaks Trade Show. Other key growers for GCF include Fruithof, Kempen and R Moerings.

GCF also sells a range of indoor plants and bulbs, and recently introduced a range of specially selected plants developed in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Andre Doorduin, owner of fellow importer Profitplant, says service is key to more sales in the UK. "A number of years ago Profitplant was one of the largest plant importers in the UK with the focus to deliver first-quality plants to garden centres in the UK," he adds. "Our team is working really hard on a comeback and the figures over the past couple of years have been promising.

"We are still working with the same principle as a couple of years ago. Focus only on the garden centre sector, first-quality plants straight from the grower as quick and easy as possible and a good (aftersales) service." At the recent HTA National Plant Show the best houseplant winner was ProfitPlant UK's Little Kolibri Orchid Victoria Falls.

German grower Brandkamp is a breeder and young-plant producer of chrysanthemums and bedding/balcony plants. Its chrysanthemum varieties include the well-known Branfountain series, also suitable for small pots and packs. Bedding and balcony plants form part of its breeding programme, including its own Jollies Fuchsia line. The family was extended last year with the Jollies La Grande series, which has some new colours for 2015-16 - cherry red, pink and red/blue.

Elsner PAC, based in Dresden, Germany, has exhibited with Eagle Plants at Four Oaks in recent years. But following the acquisition of Eagle Plants by the Newey Group it is no longer marketing or sales agent for Elsner PAC products. Elsner PAC will be displaying some of the novelties that it is planning to introduce in 2016, including its Aristo Purple Stripes pelargoniums, Candy Flowers Peach Cloud and Mexica Mary. Eagle Plants will also exhibit at the show.

Spotting the opportunity for some marketing now that the story of the worldwide decrease in pollinator populations - especially bees - appears in the headlines every day, Japan-based breeder Suntory, working together with its European licensor Moerheim, launched its new Bidens Bee Dance. One of the latest additions to the Suntory Collection Europe, it took home the IPM Innovation Award in the "best bedding and balcony plants" category last year.

Moerheim will also be promoting its Surfinia Sumo Purple, an early flowerer with a vigorous shape. This variety has a fast cultivation, needing only six weeks growing time. It is suitable for both landscaping and hanging baskets.

Israeli propagator Cohen will be showcasing its new varieties at Four Oaks. All exclusively bred for Cohen by Breier, they are added to an existing series or create a new line. Giant Yellow is the newest addition to the Bidens Bee series. The plants in this series have good basal branching and shiny flowers. The range includes all different types of growth habits and flower sizes for all growing purposes.

The new Lobularia Awesome series from Cohen includes Awesome White, Awesome Lilac and Awesome Compact White. White and Compact white are part of a completely new line for 2015-16.

Voted best in category for annuals at the HTA National Plant Show in June was Bidens Bee Dance Painted Red from Channel Island Plants, which will also be at Four Oaks again.

De Jong will exhibit its Music series of hydrangeas, which won a runners-up award at IPM and reflects a trend towards new breeding. Sicamus is another Dutch grower in the same field.

From the UK, Allensmore Nurseries is now one of the biggest suppliers to retailers, counting Waitrose and Dobbies among its bigger customers. Sales manager George Price says: "We will be launching our 2015 Christmas catalogue at the Four Oaks Trade Show, with many new added-value containers and our range of Christmas wreaths. We will also be launching our 2016 promotions catalogue."

Allensmore has also developed a partnership with Blooms of Bressingham to launch a range of perennials to the retail trade. The range will be sold in exclusive 4.5-litre Blooms of Bressingham-branded pots, with large branded care labels with each plant also highlighting "British-grown".

Each of the 44 Blooms varieties has been selected by Allensmore to offer a wide choice of colour, functionality and excellent garden performance to the end consumer, together with high volume and value sales potential for retailers.

Ball Colegrave saw more than 1,000 growers and retailers visit its Oxfordshire trial grounds last month to see its collection of themed gardens and new plants. There will be another chance to see the grower at Four Oaks. Marketing manager Stuart Lowen's top picks are Verbena EnduraScape, Osteospermum 3D and Impatiens Bounce.

The verbena was a late introduction in 2014 and is robust with good spreading ability, says Lowen. It does not grow above 15-20cm, provides good parks ground cover and complements Sufinia. The osteospermum 3D series has double flowers that do not close and comes in five distinct colours. Bounce is an interspecific hybrid impatiens that is downy mildew-resistant because it is not an I. walleriana. It grows in sun or shade and bounces back when watered after drying out.

Young-plant supplier Earley Ornamentals will have a stand double the size of the one it had last year. It will feature new varieties, colours and information about the latest growing technology. SunPatiens highlights include Compact Hot Lilac and three new Vigorous colours - Clear White, Pink Pearl and Scarlet Red.

New to Earley's portfolio is the Begonia Fortune Salmon Bicolour, the latest introduction to the Quick & Compact range, and the new variety Easter Bonnet has been added to the nemesia range. The early-flowering Earley Viola Vibrante F1 and the new on-trend colour, Henna, are new in the x Petchoa SuperCal range.

Delamore will be at the show - for the first time under new owner Volmary - following a year-long pilot sales partnership. The East Anglian young-plant producer will be able to exhibit a wider range of plants thanks to Volmary. New are exclusive Scents of Summer patio and garden pinks, the Geranium Grandeur series, petunia Pegasus and a range of grasses.

Seiont Nurseries will be at the show with ranges of young plants including its Welsh-bred heucheras. Fairweather's will be showing two new plants - Agapanthus Twister and Scabiosa Kudo. Twister is the first deciduous bicolour brought to the market while the free-flowering Kudo blooms from spring through to autumn and is resistant to mildew.

David Austin Roses will be introducing three new English Roses for the 2015-16 season. 'Desdemona' is a beautiful white rose that has a long flowering season, while 'The Ancient Mariner' (formerly 'Kelmscott)' is a floriferous larger-than-average shrub that is ideal for the border and 'Sir Walter Scott' is of very different character from the general run of English roses because of its Scottish rose heritage.

New Leaf Plants will be at the show under the new leadership of managing director David Higginson and will exhibit its range of climbers. Whetman Pinks is also being run by new people - Carolyn and Edward Bourne have take a back seat and Ed and Fiona Marley have taken over day-to-day running of the dianthus specialist.

Frank P Matthews' Cherry Stardust was best in category for trees at the recent HTA National Plant Show and the grower will be at Four Oaks with that and other fruit trees, while Kernock Park Plants, which had success with Salvia 'Love & Wishes' in the New Plant Awards at the National Plant Show, will also be at Four Oaks.

The start of a new open ground and bare root season means Howard Nurseries is once again selling its bagged bare-root irises, with promotion at Four Oaks. Unlike its traditional garden centre products, which consist of 9cm and two-litre containerised plants, the bagged irises are aimed towards the point-of-sale (POS) and horticultural gift sectors. On sale between July and September, the bagged irises saw an 87 per cent increase in sales between 2013 and 2014.

The grower also showcased Cedric Morris irises at May's RHS Chelsea Flower Show. By selling the range of 10 peat-free irises in plastic packaging with a three-week shelf life, Howard Nurseries aims to turn bare-root rhizomes into an attractive POS product that is "ideal for holidaymakers and garden centre visitors who don't want to carry around a containerised plant peat-free and come with less plastic packaging than a containerised plant, reducing the product's overall carbon footprint by a considerable margin".

Director Christine Howard adds: "They are a brilliant product, unique to our business. We are excited to offer them again to our garden centre customers this year." The available varieties are Braithwaite, Black Swan, Carnaby, Jane Phillips, Kent Pride, Lemon Ice, Langport Wren, Raspberry Blush, Stepping Out and White City.

Edible growers Quantil and Gardeners Kitchen will also be exhibiting, with reliable ranges of young vegetable plants as well as more unusual plants such as cucamelon and sweet potatoes.

Wyevale Nurseries says its "door is always open" to plant producers who have found something special. Sales and marketing director Adam Dunnett points out that recent innovations in its product development include a range of pleached trees for commercial or private landscape schemes and domestic gardens.

Bowden Hostas is best known as a consumer plant show exhibitor but is breaking into the wholesale market. Owner Tim Penrose has won outside investment to open its Devon nursery to the public. The grower, which is now finding and selling new ferns under the World of Ferns banner, bought Jungle Giants - the biggest UK's bamboo nursery - from Michael Brisbane in December 2014. Bowden also owns Rickards Ferns and PW Bamboo. It has sold 20 per cent of the business to an investor.

Botanics International is launching three flowers from Israeli breeder Hishtil as well as new sweet potatoes. Campanula poscharskyana 'Garden Star', which is exclusive to Hishtil, has bigger stems and masses of azure blue flowers over a long flowering period. This hardy perennial will grow in a wide range of soils and situations, from full sun to half shade, making a spreading plant approximately 30cm in diameter.

Scabious 'Kudo', new from Hishtil, is a new hybrid that was bred in Japan with more vigour and excellent mildew resistance. Mature flowering plants are 40cm tall and 40cm in diameter. Pink flowers are continuously produced from mid June until the first frosts. Gaillardia 'Naomi Sunshine' is a hardy variety, approximately 40cm tall, producing pure-yellow flowers all summer.

Sweet potato production has been increased to five varieties for 2016 by Botanics International - Beauregard, Bonita, Evangeline, Murasaki and Orleans. Developed in America, these varieties offer a range of flesh and skin colours. They are supplied as plugs from virus-free, organic-certified mother plants.

Kernock Park Plants will be promoting its 70 new varieties launching this year in its 2016 Growing Innovations catalogue, which came out in August. The introductions, all of which have been through trialling both in the UK and at other locations around the globe, represent a spectrum of plants including hardy and herbaceous perennials, patio plants and grasses, as well as some new editions to existing favourites from previous years.

New plants this year include Fuchsia 'Shadowdancers' and petunias 'Chocolina', 'Nerolina' and 'Flamingo', along with a new series of lobelia and two new colour additions to the existing Buddleja 'Buzz' assortment.

Also on display will be Kernock Park Plants' Wish series of salvias, including the multiple award-winner Salvia 'Love & Wishes', which has also been entered into the "best newcomer" category at this year's show.

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